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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 13:56 GMT
Peter Jackson: King of the Rings
Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler and Peter Jackson
Jackson, right, with stars Christopher Lee and Liv Tyler
New Zealand director Peter Jackson has become an international celebrity with his Lord of the Rings movies.

New Zealand has always reserved its greatest adulation for sporting giants like Richard Hadlee and Jonah Lomu, but a place must now be found on the victory dais for director Peter Jackson.

Peter Jackson is the director and co-writer of the mammoth Lord of the Rings trilogy, the second of which, The Two Towers, hit cinema screens in December.

Actor Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in The Two Towers
Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn in Jackson's trilogy
The two films so far in the trilogy, starring Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler and Sir Ian McKellen have been enough to guarantee Jackson's celebrity status.

But what elevates him to hero in his native land is his success in persuading Hollywood backers New Line Cinema to film the 210m project in New Zealand, a country many Americans would have trouble locating on a map.

Jackson was adamant. "New Zealand is the best country in the world to shoot this film, because of the variety of locations we have."

Amateur

The beauty of New Zealand was not the only inducement, though. There was also the prospect of better value for money than the US could offer.

In particular, Jackson's custom-built studio in New Zealand capital Wellington, Weta Studios, created the hundreds of computer-generated special effects at a fraction of Hollywood costs.
Wellington, New Zealand
Jackson has put Wellington on the movie-making map

It means an economic boom for Wellington, a city of only 150,000 people.

Jackson was only 12 when he made his first film, about World War II.

He and a couple of friends dug a hole in the garden, and Jackson demonstrated his early verve for special effects by making holes in the celluloid to simulate gunshots.

Financing his efforts from his work as a photo-engraving apprentice at a Wellington newspaper, Jackson's amateur movie-making continued until one film, Bad Taste, changed his life at 22.

Shooting at weekends only, it took four years to complete, as Jackson directed, produced, filmed and starred in a number of acting roles.

The film, a sci-fi comedy about aliens abducting Earth people to use as food in an outer-space fast food restaurant, was awash with vomit and blood.

But it possessed enough originality to persuade the chairman of the New Zealand Film Commission to take it to the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acclaimed by most critics and sold to 30 countries.

Oscars

Meet the Feebles, characterised as "the Muppet show on drugs", and a gory zombie comedy, Braindead, followed.

While Jackson's splatter-fest fixation continued, there were pointers of a more serious style emerging and some ingenious special effects.

Jackson made his big breakthrough in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures.

JRR Tolkien
Tolkien: Jackson aimed to capture his vision
It featured the then unknown Kate Winslet and local actress Melanie Lynskey and was a subtle, scary movie about a famous New Zealand murder case from the 1950s.

It brought Oscar nominations for Jackson and partner Fran Walsh for their original screenplay.

Jackson then talked of remaking the 1930s classic King Kong.

He refused to relocate to Hollywood - almost unheard of - and developed his special effects studio to do work on other Hollywood films, such as Contact.

In 1996 he released The Frighteners, a darkly comic tale of a reluctant ghost-hunter starring Michael J Fox.

He and Walsh came up with the unlikely idea of adapting Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings six years ago.

'18-month shoot

"It just popped into our heads," said 40-year-old Jackson, who lives in Wellington with Walsh and their two young children.

It should have been a daunting ambition, especially because Jackson made the unprecedented decision to film all three movies in one 18-month shoot.

Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Right, with partner and co-writer Fran Walsh

Jackson, usually dressed in a pair of scruffy shorts, would film several scenes at once, keeping in touch with assistant directors through a video relay.

His special effects team invented a new computer programme for the films' epic battle scenes, populated with thousands of artificially intelligent warriors.

The Fellowship of the Ring was released in December 2001 and almost immediately became one of the biggest films in cinema history.

Jackson's gamble paid off. The film has so far made more than $860m (537m) around the world.

It received a nomination for best film at last year's Oscars, and won several other awards, including best cinematography, score and visual effects.

The Two Towers has also already had a swag of Bafta and Golden Globes nominations.

If Jackson does not win best film or best director in March there is always 2004: the final instalment, The Return of the King, is released in December.



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21 Jan 03 | Entertainment
19 Dec 02 | Entertainment
24 Feb 02 | Entertainment
13 Feb 02 | Oscars 2002
30 Dec 01 | Entertainment
19 Dec 01 | Entertainment
28 Dec 02 | Entertainment
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